Posts Tagged ‘Slave Housing’

National Black Arts Festival Study Group Walks in Footsteps of Baker’s Ancestors on Wessyngton Plantation

Sunday, June 13th, 2010



In addition to touring the grounds surrounding the Wessyngton mansion, National Black Arts Festival members and guests walked in the footsteps of Baker’s ancestor in the slave cabin area of the plantation.  The group went inside a restored slave cabin built ca. 1830.  In 1860, there were 274 enslaved African Americans on the plantation, housed in forty log cabins.  At the onset of the Civil War, Wessyngton held the largest African American population in the state of Tennessee and was the largest tobacco producer in America.

White Sharecroppers on Southern Plantations

Friday, November 6th, 2009
White Sharecroppers on Wessyngton Plantation

White Sharecroppers on Wessyngton Plantation

After the Civil War several former Wessyngton slaves remained on the plantation.  Others moved to Nashville, to the north, surrounding counties and some purchased their own farms. 

When the former slaves left the area many white farmers and African Americans came to Wessyngton Plantation and became sharecroppers and resided in the former slave cabins.

Under the sharecropping system, the landowner received two thirds of the crop and the tenant or sharecropper only received one third of the crop.  The sharecropper was provided a house, mules, land, seed and fetilizer.  They raised crops of tobacco, corn, wheat and rye.

African American and white sharecroppers continued farming on Wessyngton Plantation until the property was sold by the Washington family in 1983 nearly 200 years after the plantation was founded.

Slave Descendant Walks in Ancestors’ Footsteps on Wessyngton Plantation

Monday, November 2nd, 2009
Archaeological Dig at Wessyngton Slave Cabin Site

Archaeological Dig at Wessyngton Slave Cabin Site

In 1991, I had an opportunity that few historians or genealogists ever have; to literally walk in your ancestors’ footsteps.  In 1989 I was approached by the president of the Bloomington-Normal black history Project and director of the Midwestern archaeological research Center, about the potential investigations of the salve cabin area on Wessyngton Plantation to get an interpretation of slave life there.  Similar digs have been conducted at the Hermitage, Mt. Vernon, and Monticello. 

The actual digging at Wessyngton did not start until 1991.  The thought of actually walking in my ancestors’ footsteps and holding objects they used in their everyday lives one hundred years earlier was surreal to me.  Three sections of the slave cabin area were selected for exploration.  One site was where the cabin of my great-great-grandparents Emanuel and Henny Washington once stood.

The dig yielded fragments of pottery and dishes used by my ancestors as well as coins and arrowheads made by Native Americans. 

The photograph above shows the site of the archaeological dig on Wessyngton Plantation where my ancestors once lived.

Slave Housing on Southern Plantations

Monday, October 5th, 2009
Wessyngton Slave Cabins

Wessyngton Slave Cabins

Housing for slaves varied from plantation to plantation depending on the owners.  Most slave quarters were generally arranged in avenues or streets and located behind the mansion or ‘Big House.’  They were strategically placed to give the owner or overseer a clear view of the slaves, so their activities could be easily monitored.

The slave settlement at Wessyngton Plantation, however, did not fit this pattern.  The lack of a clustered settlement pattern at Wessyngton was somewhat unusual during antebellum times.  This was primarily due to the hilly topography of the plantation.  The scattered pattern gave the slaves at Wessyngton more freedom and made it far more difficult to keep them under constant surveillance.

Typically, slave housing at Wessyngton consisted of hand-hewn one-room log cabins measuring 20 by 20 square feet with brick end chimneys.  Some cabins were 18 by 36 square feet.  Each cabin had log flooring and a loft, where children  slept. 

Each cabin housed an average of six individuals.  Family sizes varied depending on the number births, deaths and marriages.

Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation Featured on

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Check out my article on   It is an excellent resource for African American history and genealogy.

Enslaved African American Families on Wessyngton Plantation in 1860

Sunday, July 12th, 2009









In 1860 Wessyngton Plantation was the largest tobacco plantation in the United States.  The Washington family also held the largest number of enslaved African Americans (274) in the state of Tennessee.   187 of them were held on what was called the “Home Place” near the Wessyngton mansion.  Eighty-seven others were held on a part of the plantation known was the “Dortch Place.”